Fórsa has told local government minister Eoghan Murphy that he won’t win support for his plans to bring 3,500 local authority workers under the control of Irish Water unless there is a referendum to underpin public ownership and control of the utility.
In a meeting with the minister earlier this month, the union warned that the Government’s initiative is fraught with risk and could jeopardise the continuity of safe drinking and waste water supplies.
Fórsa official Peter Nolan said local authority staff have growing fears that the mass move of council staff to Irish Water control could be a stepping stone to water privatisation unless a referendum takes place first.
Fórsa, together with other unions that represent water workers, is now awaiting a response to the concerns raised with Minister Murphy.
“At our meeting with the minister, we demanded that proposals for a constitutional referendum to guarantee that water services will always remain under democratic public control should be speeded up. We are deeply disappointed that the referendum has not been included in proposals, recently announced, for referenda next May,” said Peter.
Fórsa says water workers have no enthusiasm about proposals to bring them under the control of a commercial body, as envisaged by the Government.
“To do so without constitutional protection will create a disaffected workforce and public disquiet over the future of water costs and quality. This view was endorsed by the all-party Oireachtas committee on Housing, Planning and Local Government, and has broad support in the communities we serve,” said Peter.
Representatives of Fórsa’s Local Government and Municipal Employees divisions met earlier this month to consider an invitation to talks on the Government’s proposals. The union says a decision on whether to engage in negotiations will be taken after the Minister has responded to union concerns to be raised at today’s meeting, which also involves ICTU and Siptu officials.
Minister Murphy has invited unions to engage in a WRC-assisted process aimed at creating a framework for the proposed move to a single water utility by 2021. This would be four years before the expiry of existing service level agreements (SLAs) between Irish Water and local councils.
In a letter to unions last month, departmental officials conveyed the minister’s offer of talks, which would “address the concerns of workers on future deployment of the current local authority water staff” through a collective agreement, in the context of a new ‘framework’ to replace existing SLAs.